Thursday, December 20, 2018

Iowa School Performance Profiles

Recently, the Iowa Department of Education reported information about the performance of Iowa schools using a new online system, the Iowa School Performance Profiles.  Using this new tool fulfills a federal education law requirement called the 'Every Student Succeeds Act' which is more commonly referred to as ESSA.  ESSA is the legislation that replaced 'No Child Left Behind' (NCLB).  NCLB raised the awareness of the inequity that exists in public education and increased the accountability measures for schools.  There is strong merit in the intended purpose of NCLB. However, the legislation was severely punitive in nature and flawed by design.  ESSA continues to establish challenging criteria and performance benchmarks but is designed to provide intensive support and assistance to schools that are designated and reported as a comprehensive or targeted school.

The Iowa School Performance Profiles reports how each Iowa public performed on a set of core accountability measures which currently includes the Iowa Assessments.  This information is reported by the overall results of the school as well as by subgroups of students including students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, special education, English learners, and students from racial and ethnic minority groups. Some schools are designated as in need of comprehensive or targeted support based on how the school performed in the areas described above.  Schools who meet or exceed the established criteria are not identified with a label, but a score on the accountability measures is still reported on the site.

I am very pleased to report Shenandoah schools met or exceeded the requirements and was not designated as needing comprehensive or targeted support. Schools that meet or exceed the established criteria are not identified with a label but a score on the accountability measures is still reported on the site.  

This report is a very positive reflection on the Shenandoah schools.  The staff has been very focused in their effort to provide high-quality instruction, participate in professional learning, and increase student achievement.  I also appreciate the efforts of our staff to encourage our students and build positive relationships, support their individual learning needs, get them to school and make sure their nutritional needs are met so students can focus on learning.  I commend all of the staff for their effort to make a difference and contribute to the success of our students.  

It is always a great feeling to receive reports on the things we do well as a school system.  It is also good to recognize and acknowledge there are some areas where we can continue to grow and improve. We will need to dig into the data that has been provided to understand more about where we can continue to make progress.

There are many schools that are designated as either comprehensive or targeted that have staff who are working very hard to make improvements in their schools and have strengths in many areas.  The positive news is that under ESSA these schools will not be punished for their challenges, instead they will receive the support in the areas where more growth is necessary.  This type of support system is a welcome change for all schools.




Friday, December 14, 2018

December Board Notes

This month the Board meeting was focused on two main points of discussion, a retirement incentive plan and the facility work that is occurring.  It was a simple agenda, but there was a healthy discussion about the topics.

The District recently surveyed staff members about their retirement plans. There were 26 staff members who responded that they are considering retiring in the next two to five years.  There were nine staff members that indicated they are considering retirement at the end of this school year.  The plan discussed with the Board provides a financial incentive for staff members who are age 55 and above, have at least ten continuous years of full-time service in the District, and who are in good standing with the District to retire at the end of the school year.  The plan allows for eligible teachers to receive a total of $16,000 over two years using a special pay plan and eligible support staff to receive a total of $10,000 using the same payment method.   

We have great staff members, so it is difficult to immediately recognize the benefits of offering a financial incentive for them to retire. Some naturally inquire why we do not offer the same type of incentive for our staff to continue teaching rather than when they are considering retirement.  This is a good question, and I can relate to this.  I would love to be able to pay staff more to continue teaching. However, it is a matter of budget limitations with the general fund.  

School districts pay staff salaries out of the general fund which is also used to pay for academic programs, instructional resources, professional development, fuel, and utilities.  Retirement incentives are paid out of the management fund which has a different purpose. The management fund is designed to pay for unemployment, liability insurance and judgments, and retirement incentives. Staff salaries cannot be paid from the management fund.  

Ultimately, the District saves money in the general fund by offering a financial incentive for staff to retire. When a long-term staff member retires, it is important that the District carefully evaluate the staff position that becomes vacant. Many times an open position can be filled by a new staff member that is not quite as expensive as a long-term employee.  It is also possible to consider restructuring to meet a different need in the District or eliminating the position.

The Board also discussed an overview of the facility planning process, the three locations we have visited, and important timelines.  The Board set a date for a work session to talk about this more in depth on Monday, December 17th.

All of the consent agenda items including financial reports and personnel items were approved. There were a few action items that were addressed including an equipment donation from H&H and a contract with Brightspark Travel for the student trip to Washington D.C. and New York City in 2020.



Thursday, December 6, 2018

Let's Talk About the Weather

The weather has shifted, and we are starting to see colder days and more snow.  It is necessary to adjust the school schedule at times. The following information will help you be prepared and understand the announcements made on School Messenger and or text message.

If you want to receive school messages related to weather and or emergencies via text message, you will need to opt in. You opt-in to receive text messages following these directions or by texting Text “Y” to 67587 from each wireless device they wish to receive texts. If you have blocked school messenger calls, emails or texts you will not receive these notices. 

How is the Decision Made?

The decision to delay, close, or dismiss school early is largely dependent on the current weather conditions and what is anticipated to happen in the hours to come.  It is my preference to make an announcement the night before to allow families the maximum amount of time to prepare for a change in schedule. If a decision is not made the night before, an effort is made to make some type of decision and announce it around 5:30 AM.  Some find this too early but we do have staff and students at school as early as 6:00 AM for work assignments and practices.

Weather decisions are frequently made in collaboration with area superintendents, transportation and maintenance directors.  At times it makes sense to make a common decision between districts but this is not always the case.  Weather conditions vary; what is happening in the Shenandoah District may be different than what is happening in a different district.  Ultimately, a decision is made that is believed to be safe and appropriate for the Shenandoah District.

Road conditions are a very important part of the decision that is made.  We do check roads using information from the DOT, specific internet sites, driving some roads and routes, and consulting with others in the area. It may be that some roads are better than others and it is not possible to drive every road. We understand, you as a parent/guardian will need to make the ultimate decision about the safety of the conditions and ability to bring your child to school.  Please contact your school office by phone or email to communicate with them about your student’s attendance.

Weather predictions are not always accurate. Advancements with technology have helped us be more accurate but making weather-related decisions remains to be our best-informed estimation of what might occur.

What Do the Decisions Mean?

Two Hour Delays are normally called when it is anticipated the weather conditions or roads will improve with a little more time. This type of decision allows road crews and staff more time to clear roads, parking lots and sidewalks to make travel easier. It also allows additional time for students, staff, and parents to arrive at school and work safely.

School start times and buses pick up times will be two hours later than normal. If school normally starts at 8:05 AM, it will start at 10:05 AM on days there is a two-hour delay.  A bus that normally picks up at 7:10 AM will pick up at 9:10 AM.

Any school activity, practice or program that occurs will start two hours late unless it is specifically announced as canceled for the day.

Morning Preschool for Three Year Olds is not held when there is a delayed start to the day. There will be afternoon Preschool.

Mid-day Early Dismissals are understandably difficult for families and caregivers but they are necessary at times.  This type of dismissal occurs when the weather is shifting and it is important to allow students and staff to arrive home before the weather becomes more serious or transportation is not possible. When mid-day Early Dismissal occur related to weather there will be no school activities, practices or events held.  It may also occur when there is a serious problem with the facility or safety concern that must be addressed. 

If school is closed for the day there will be no school activities, practices, or events.  This is due to several factors.  One school is closed if the weather is anticipated to be severe, and normally that means that travel is not advised. It also may because there are conditions in the building or on the grounds that need to be addressed such as roof conditions, heating problems, and clearing entryways before we allow people on campus.  If there is a significant change in the weather a home event or a  state level contest, or an unusual circumstance a different announcement may be made. 

Goals?

It may seem rather cliché to write about goals or resolutions this time of year.  However, for me, it is difficult to start a new year with...